For nearly a decade, Dan Buettner has researched the places people live longest, healthiest and happiest.
What shows up when you Google yourself? A comment you made to the local newspaper years ago? A photo from a college party you didn’t realize was even online?
A growing number of websites, including Metal Rabbit Media, Integrity Defenders and Reputation.com are trying to help you control what you look like online.
Reputation.com warns that “people aren’t just searching for you, they’re judging you” and you may want to “make sure your online story is still your story.”
Reputation.com CEO and founder Michael Fertik told Here & Now‘s Robin Young that the typical customer is someone who is looking for a job and wants to make sure that when an employer Googles them, something relevant shows up.
Many customers are also starting to date online or apply to graduate school and want to control their online presence.
Reputation.com has an increasing number of corporate customers, including many companies who want to bury a bad quarter of earnings online, or are creating a new product that they want to rise to the top of search results.
But Fertik says there are some people they will not help.
“No violent felons, no one who’s ever been accused of harming a child. Nobody who’s been convicted of a serious fraud,” he said.
Reputation.com charges a $99 annual membership fee, but for the Reputation Defender service it’s $3,000 a month, and it can cost more, depending on how much dirt there is online about you, while the company Integrity Defenders charges around $500 to clear negative links from the first page of search results and about twice that to clear two pages.
But some have raised questions about this type of service.
In 2007, Forbes published an article about Sue Scheff, who ran a business that placed troubled teens in reform schools. As Forbes put it, disgruntled clients took to the web to complain about her business and “a quick Google search used to reveal sites describing her as a ‘fraud,’ a ‘con artist’ and a ‘crook.'”
Scheff hired Reputation.com to help her change how she appeared online, and the company buried negative web chatter by creating a cooking blog for Scheff, even though she does not cook. Fertik says Reputation.com has since decided to discontinue such practices.
“It’s true, we created this cooking blog, we took it down, and we created some very bright line rules that we will not create any content of that kind in the future,” he said.
Fertik says the negative references to Reputation.com in the Forbes article are a good example of why his company is necessary.
“You might Google us and say here’s this Forbes article, there have been 300 articles written about us per year since then. We might ask OK, why is that the first thing you see about us, or the second or the third, which I don’t think it is,” he said.
Aside from reputation management, Reputation.com also offers privacy services– helping customers avoid being tracked online, and remove themselves from databases that sell personal information.